Some very half-baked thoughts just before I run out the door…
A few recent exchanges – here, here and here – have in the last few days have had me saying the same sort of thing, namely that generic characteristics are useful as tools more than signifiers – that in any book worth its salt there will be more than one thing happening. So, for instance, mimesis is an effect which must be applied in science fiction. In our Little Stranger discussion, Abigail and I agree that our differences stem from a fundamentally different relationship with the novel: Abigail is interested primarily in the ghost story aspect of the novel. This seemed to me a pity because, it seemed to me, the ghost story of the book is primarily interesting in so far as it is used to bolster what all the other parts of the book are doing at the same time.
I was reminded of The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas was something of a profiteering master at throwing every possible genre at his book and letting stick what stuck. One of the final chapters sees our heroes punish Milady, their intractable and irredeemable foe for the previous 700 pages. The chapter has a sense of triumph and justice, then, but there is also an overriding sense of horror: in the book’s sequel, we will be unsurprised to find that the noble Athos is haunted by these very events. Dumas liberally applies the Gothic throughout the chapter, yet so mixed is the effect that it produces a feeling not of horror but merely unease: the episode manages to deny us our sense of revenge without convincing us that the musketeers are villains. It’s a clever generic balancing act which a reader looking just for the horror of the passage would simply miss.
Sometimes a job is so complex that its proper completion requires many tools from a variety of boxes, not just the ones with which we’re familiar.